This “self-defense tips for men” post is the result of a combination of factors. First of all, I recently started teaching self-defense to another private student and he asked a number of questions. Second was a conversation with a fellow author about the reality of self-defense and violence versus the myths and misconceptions we see people believe in every day. The conversation turned to the erroneous assumptions men in particular seem to have on this topic and he suggested I write a blog piece about it. I gave it some thought and this is the result.
Some of the tips might seem strange at first but you’ll see what I mean quickly enough. Also, there is not one single tip that explains how to throw a punch or do any other physical technique. I’ll explain why in the end.
8 Self-defense tips for men
Before I get started with the tips, you need to understand that this is not a definitive list. There is obviously a lot more to say about this topic but the concept of a “tip” revolves around practical information you can use relatively quickly or it serves as an eye-opener. It gives you specific information for direct use or it makes you understand something crucial. This is in stark contrast with “studying”, which means working hard and continuously to increase knowledge, understanding and skill. So think of these tips as a bunch of ideas for you to think about right now and see how you can implement them. They aren’t rocket science, there’s nothing in them that you can’t understand. The challenge is only in doing them.
Another point is that I’m writing with men and their typical mindset in mind. Sure, there will be overlap for women but right now, that’s not my focus. Perhaps another time.
Finally, the tips are mostly geared towards handling social violence. They are not as applicable to dealing with criminal violence where the rules are a little different.
That said, let’s get started.
Self-defense tips for men #1: Forget what you see on the screen.
The vast majority of movies and TV-series fail miserably when it comes to portraying realistic violence and self-defense. Unfortunately, there is just so much nonsense on the screen that it makes its way into the collective psyche and many men think that’s how it really is. Then they get into a fight and discover they were wrong. For example: telling a gangbanger “he doesn’t have the guts” to shoot you when he demands your wallet is a surefire way to get killed. Not for Bruce Willis or Jason Statham in the movies but for you, yes it is.
You’d think that all men would get this and I’m sure they do when they think about it while sober and alone. But pour a few beers into them, get them together with their buddies and they’re chest-thumping and cussing while they get right into that gangbanger’s face. And then they don’t understand why they get shot…
This is just an example and an extreme one at that but there are many more. Replace the gangbanger robbing you with a guy who quickly drove into “your” parking spot and the same thing applies: common sense is often lacking with men when they are faced with such a situation.
My point is this: the human mind, like nature, abhors a vacuum. It will fill in that vacuum in any way it can. So if you have no actual experience with violence, you will form your opinions about it somehow. And no matter how much you tell yourself that “it’s just a movie” your mind is still absorbing that information subconsciously. Given enough repetition, you might be surprised about how much disinformation you actually soak up. So forget about the movie violence or the way they portray self-defense situations and how to handle them. 99.99% of the time, they get it wrong. If you do have experience with violence, you already know this is true.
Self-defense tips for men #2: Live, love and be happy.
Say what? Yes indeed. Live a good life. Love your significant other, family and friends. And be as happy as you can be, every single day. If you focus on those things, you are less likely to make the mistakes that get you in the kind of trouble that results in violence. You’ll be able to let go of the issues that aren’t worth fighting over simply because you have something worth losing: a frikkin’ awesome life.
The trouble with violence is that it tends to escalate and become uncontrollable real fast. It is also an unpredictable beast: I’ve punched people full-power in the face and had them stare at me. In contrast, a guy was just put on trial over here for killing a 19-year old kid. What happened? The kid spilled some beer over his shirt and refused to apologize. The guy punch him once. The kid fell, cracked his skull and died. In front of plenty of witnesses.
That guy can now say goodbye to his life as it was before. He’s toast.
For the record, he had taken some krav maga classes. Guess what the lawyers brought up during the trial? Guess again about the kind of violent killer they portrayed him to be…
So especially if you practice martial arts or combatives, think twice before you let your ego and emotions take you places you will regret going. It’s easy to go there in the heat of the moment though, adrenaline and tempers being what they are. But if you have an awesome life to get back to, it’s much easier to walk away when somebody smudges your Pumas.
Self-defense tips for men #3: Know yourself.
The focus of men who want to learn self-defense skills is usually on the bad guys, the aggressors they’ll have to handle when things take a wrong turn. That is definitely an important issue but it isn’t the only one. Because it assumes that the problem will always be with somebody else, which is not always true. You’re half of the equation in a fight, your motivations and actions will definitely influence whether it turns to blows or not.
Sure, there are situations you can’t deescalate. Some people will go out of their way to pick a fight. But a lot (perhaps even most) of the potential conflicts can be avoided if you keep your head screwed on correctly. If you can keep it together, you’ll be able to focus on finding solutions for the problem, not taking his bait or just leave. To be able to do that, you need to stay cool. To be able to stay cool, you need to know what sets you off.
We all have our hot buttons, not much you can do about that. But you can be aware of them and make sure they don’t get pushed. Or at the very least, recognize when they are being pushed and then getting clear of the person doing the pushing. Before you do something you’ll regret later on or you end up escalating the conflict into violence because the guy pissed you off.
Putting it a bit differently: you can avoid the need for self-defense if you avoid the conflict. Avoiding a conflict is easier done with a cool head. So make sure you know what makes you lose your cool.
Self-defense tips for men #4: He’s human too.
That guy who’s in your face calling you names? The guy who cuts you off in traffic and flips you the bird? The one who’s eyeballing you with murder in his eyes because you bumped his shoulder? He’s human, just like you. There are reasons why he acts like that. Reasons you may never know or understand, but they are real to him. Everything I said in tip #2 applies to him too but it looks like he’s throwing that advice to the wind. Something (You? Somebody else? Some pre-existing problem?) is making him act like that and you can be sure he feels he is in the right and you are wrong.
This is true for most people, barring certain criminals and other populations: he isn’t the bad guy in his own mind. He’s the hero in the movie of his life that plays inside his head. To him, you are the bad guy. Obviously, you feel the same way about him but here’s the thing: you can both be right. Conflicts are not always black and white. You could very well both be to blame for whatever you’re getting into a fight over.
If you can understand that, it’s easier for you to walk away and avoid the conflict altogether. If you don’t feel the need to be right all the time and prove it to the world, you can walk away and leave the other guy to his illusion of being “right”.
Mind you, I didn’t say you have to like the guy or turn the other cheek. Not at all. Understanding his motivations in no way means approval of his actions. Feel free to think he’s an asshole. Or do what I do, pity the fool and walk away, back to your awesome life of which he will no longer be a part of, ever.
Self-defense tips for men #5: Get over yourself.
This tip is the flip side of the previous one: don’t be the bad guy to other people. A large portion of violent incidents can be avoided by simply getting over yourself, by not letting your ego or sense of entitlement make the decisions. Yes, it is your right to be loud and boisterous in a biker bar. But it’s not a smart move is it? It is absolutely your right to give that guy who cuts in line a piece of your mind; free speech and all that. But calling him a “shit-for-brains retard” is probably not going to do much to defuse the situation. And so on.
In so many cases, men let their testosterone take over and shoot from the hip instead of taking a step back. In part, this is because of how our brains are wired. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept this as an unchangeable fact of life. You can change your knee-jerk responses but only if you really want to. It takes a lot of trial and error, effort, time and determination, but it can most certainly be done. All it really takes is the conscious decision to get over yourself and then stick to it. Or to put it into a practical context:
Whenever you think “It’s my goddamned right to…” right before you do or say something, pause for a second and consider if it’s worth bleeding or dying over. If not, maybe you shouldn’t take it to that next level.
Self-defense tips for men #6: Leave.
Watch any street fight on Youtube or when it makes the news and you’ll consistently see the same thing: a crowd of people standing close by. Violence attracts attention, especially in men. They want to keep looking at it to see what happens next; it’s almost as good as sports on TV and in some ways even better. Some men feel the urge to participate, which is why you so often see guys getting sucker punched by a guy who wasn’t originally involved in the conflict. It doesn’t matter if you are just watching and have no intention of getting involved; violence is chaos in action and both the fighters as well as the crowd can turn on you in a heartbeat. One second you’re just standing there and the next you get punched in the back of the head.
The same goes for you as a combatant: just because it starts one-on-one doesn’t mean it will stay that way. As you can seen in the previous link, just because you “win” doesn’t mean you are safe from the crowd, even if they all left you alone throughout the fight. You can avoid all this by simply leaving. Don’t watch fights, don’t hang around. Just go.
Of course, the same applies if you are involved in the build-up phase of a potential conflict: if you just leave, the other guy(s) can’t hurt you, simply because you aren’t there anymore…
Self-defense tips for men #7: Peyton Quinn’s rules.
Peyton Quinn has four extremely practical rules to avoid and deescalate violent situations. They are simple to understand and put the information I explained in the previous tips into action very well. Here they are:
- Don’t ignore him.
- Don’t insult him.
- Don’t challenge him or accept his challenge.
- Leave him a face-saving exit.
I covered these rules in a previous post and Peyton and I discussed them some more in a follow up, so you might want to check out those articles for more information.
These rules are very clear and if you take the previous tips to heart, it won’t take long before you can use them in your daily life. But it once again takes a serious commitment before this can be the case. You need to want it to work. If you are secretly only looking for an excuse to go off on somebody, then you’ll fail miserably in implementing these rules and violence will come your way.
Which brings me to the final tip here below.
Self-defense tips for men #8: Stick to the mission.
All these tips are useless to you if you do not have a clear idea of what your ultimate goal is. You need a personal mission so you always work towards that goal instead of away from it. It is your commitment to that mission that will help you avoid violence and the need for physical self-defense techniques by implementing all the tips I wrote here. If you aren’t committed to that mission, you risk straying from it and going into a direction that ultimately leads to violence, even if you don’t see that at first. To put it with the words of a LEO friend of mine: do not abandon the mission.
Everybody’s mission is different and you need to decide on one for yourself but here’s mine:
Every time I leave the house, my mission is to return to it and my loved ones safely and unharmed so I can live a long and happy life with them.
Every time I run into potential violent situations, I do whatever it takes to complete my mission. If that means using physical self-defense techniques, then I am prepared to do so. If that means walking away when somebody calls me an asshole, then I am prepared to do so. Whatever it takes to stick to the mission.
Is this glamorous? No.
Is this what the movies show? No.
Is this what your inner-macho tells you to do? Hell no.
But it is what works in keeping you safe.
Why no actual fighting technique tips?
I didn’t write anything about how to use physical techniques for self-defense in this article. Some of you will be disappointed because of that. Here’s the thing: in a majority of situations that can lead to violence, punching the other guy is not the best solution.
Not only is it not always legal to hit the guy, you might not win when you land that punch. He might soak it up and then beat the crap out of you. Or the flip side of that coin: you might hit him too good and kill him. Remember the guy who killed that 19-year old kid with one punch? Wanna bet he didn’t think that would happen when he got all upset over spilled beer on his shirt? Do you really want that to happen to you?
Situations are never black and white, you always have to use your judgment and decide on a course of action. Sometimes that indeed involves knocking the other guy out. But in so many more situations, self-defense means implementing the tips I wrote here so you can deescalate the problem and accomplish your mission of getting home in one piece. Defusing and avoiding a conflict is not sexy or flashy, nor does it win you bragging rights with your drinking buddies. It’s also not what men do instinctively, on the contrary.
However, it is the most pragmatic solution to potential violence. It is the solution that offers the most bang for the buck, the one that brings you closest to your mission goal with the lowest cost to you.
It takes a certain amount of maturity for a man to accept this. I sure couldn’t do it when I was in my teens or twenties. Now that I’m older, I see the value of doing it this way. I also have an awesome life to lose if I get into a stupid brawl with a drunk and end up in court, perhaps losing that battle and going to jail.
Does that mean I stop training actual fighting techniques and skills? No, not at all. These are not mutually exclusive goals as there will always be situations where you are forced to go physical.
What it does mean is that it takes more than some stupid behavior from a guy who’s messed up in his head to make me knock his lights out. I will exhaust all other options before taking it there. Just so I can get back to my life of fun and good times.
I hope you can do the same.
I’m using this blog post to write a book on this topic. If you want to stay informed on when it is released, sign up here on my notification list. You’ll get an email as soon as it’s ready.
If want some more in-depth information on this subject, take a look at these sources:
- Martial Arts, Self-Defense and a Whole Lot More: The Best of Wim’s Blog My latest book with tons of articles on violence and self-defense.
Street E & E: Evading, Escaping, And Other Ways To Save Your Ass When Things Get Ugly Marc’s book on how to get to safety when you are in a violent conflict and need to run.
Real Fighting: Adrenaline Stress Conditioning Through Scenario-Based Training Peyton’s book on how adrenaline works in a fight.
- Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. Rory’s book on how violence actually happens and how to deal with it. Good stuff.
Charles James says
Really good information, thanks!
Thanks Charles, glad you liked it.
Quality, practical information once again. Thanks! The mission statement part is really useful to keep in mind, and one I’ve often used, not that I get into fights or look for them.Not exactly related, but it makes me think of getting bogged down in technique, when there are no techniques, only principles.
A LEO friend of mine brought home the importance of having a clear mission goal during a long talk (over cigars and whiskey, but I digress). Some of the best advice ever I ever received.
Lori O'Connell (Martial Arts/Self-defense Instructor) says
Awesome article! I wish more men would think about these things before getting into a fight. I’ve gone ahead and shared it on all my dojo’s social media. :)
I am a firm believer that self-defense begins with how you think first. Great tips I made notes. Reading and studying are just as important as learning how to throw a punch. I will be passing this article on.
KnightBaker Simon says
Excellent post. I particularly like the “Get Over Yourself” tip. In my experience that’s one of the harder concepts to grasp intuitively.
Oscar Diaz says
Wim, these are pearls of wisdom. Thank you for reminding me of them as I have a temper and I sometimes let it get the better of me. God bless you.
My pleasure Oscar, hope it helps and good luck out there.
Hugh Wallace says
I agree. 100%. And then some. (And it was worth being patient for ;-) )
Charles Barnes says
Very good advice. I have been instructing my students in my classes a similar attitude…that it is far cheaper to buy the guy a beer that you accidently bumped into and who wants to fight you than it is to face arrest, hire an attorney, and deal with the justice system. I managed biker bars in Daytona for many years and have seen what a mix of alcohol, machismo, and pure stupidity can do. But I have also seen that the quiet ones, the ones that cause no trouble, are the ones that are usually up to the task when REAL violence presents itself. You are correct sir, in having a mission and staying on it.
Thanks Charles, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the article. And my experience mirrors yours: watch out for the quiet ones.
Dennis Dilday says
Well said Wim. Thanks. More people need to to hear (read) this… I hope they are out there listening:-)
Thanks Dennis. Fingers crossed they do. :-)
Good read, so I guess I will have to put my nunchakus away then… :)
Not at all, make sure you carry three pairs wherever you go. And a Quan Dao on your back. Just to be safe. :-)
Hahhahaha will do then!
Jeroen VI says
Great information Wim! It made me think!
I agree…stick to your mission and get home in one piece!
Well-spoken, as usual. I will be passing on a recommendation to all my male students to read this post.
Thanks Sharon! Chocolate gin is on the way! ;-)
A really great article, Wim. If you don’t mind, I’ll just add my quick tip for self-defense for men:
Don’t hang out with young, shirtless, drunk men! All studies show you’re much safer around old, shirtless, drunk men… or young, shirtless, drunk women :)
Lots of folks saying it, but I feel the need to say it too. Thanks for writing this, and for sharing the knowledge you gained the difficult way so I can hopefully get some of it the easy way.
Thanks Shawn, much appreciated. Be safe out there.
The Strongest Karate says
I like what you said about that other guy being “the hero” of the movie in his own head. I’ve had similar thoughts when I’ve been endangered on the road by the other guy’s clearly illegal move and then been on the receiving end of his finger and horn. I remember one such event in which, after I stopped frothing at the mouth, I turned to my wife and said, “You know what’s funny? To this guy I’M THE ASSHOLE”. Then I let out a long breath and went back to quietly wishing he’d wrap himself around a tree a top speed.
Yep, that’s how it usually goes. :-)
Excellent advice. Thank you very much for sharing it! I wish that I read this 20 years ago – but it wouldn’t have done much good back then….. :-)
I know the feeling Vic. :-)
Thank you for this article. I grew up in a pre-2000 decade, + a town, where you didn’t let [an insult, a punch, or an ear-flick, or similar things] slide.
If someone insulted you, or punched/struck you, the town said that you HAD to get in an insult fight with them. Also, if your insult fight turned into a physical fight, then that was, to the townspeople, “OK” too.
Ugh. what a way to grow up. I now realize that that is a lousy set of rules for kids, men, or anyone, to live by.
Thank you for your article.
It reinforces the idea that you don’t have to fight, or accept a challenge to a senseless fight, to be: manly, a man, a woman, or a good person.
I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but, I feel like saying, with much gratitude: Thank you.
Thanks, glad to hear you enjoyed the article.
There are towns/societies where the attitude to violence you described is still very much a fact of life. Sometimes, there are valid reasons for that, but that’s for another post. My point was mainly that for the average man in the average town or city, there is another way of handling it. A way that might be safer in the long run.
I have a friend who is a former prison officer, former college football player, and in retirement still benches over 200. He has a lifetime of training in martial arts. I have seen him being verbally bullied and insulted by a smaller, but aggressive fellow on a couple of occasions.
My friend actually has a pretty short fuse, but apparently knows exactly where his hot buttons are. After those confrontations, which are I know embarrassing to him, hehas confided to me that “one day he is going to push me too far and it is not going to end well for him”. I have told him that he is doing the right thing and to just ignore the guy and consider the downside of any physical violence.
My hope is that these two don’t spend any time in each other’s company.
Like we say over here: some people can make two stones fight each other. That smaller fellow will eventually learn the error of his ways…
So men get told nothing about practical tips to defend themselves but women do? Gee, thanks!
For women, the hard part most often isn’t telling them to “not hit” but teaching them by repetition to overcome the deep programming to “not hit.” It took me about 3 years. However, I do have a rage-temper, and am much healthier now for not swallowing it – but for me this post reinforced both everything I’ve ever learned in MA training (“the best way to not get hit is to not be where the fist is”) and also the CCW class I took last year. It’s cheaper and healthier to walk away than to put yourself at very high risk of a civil suit.
A. Nuran says
Common sense is a superpower and isn’t common. Thanks for providing some.
Thanks, glad to hear you liked the article.
Great article, all things I need to learn how to apply in my life.
This is like old wise man’s wisdom. Would the young you have listened to this? lol
What exactly do you mean by, “Ignore Him”. Could you expand on that?
I trained in Muay Thai years ago and my instructor would always say “The best defense against a punch is to not be there for it.” True in more ways than one. Don’t get in a fight if you don’t have to, and if you find yourself in a fight, maintain your fighting distance. Most people (apart from trained fighters) will expend their adrenaline in a matter of seconds. If you can keep them dancing/moving for 15-30 seconds, they’ll be too gassed to do much damage if you have to close with them.
What ever you said is exactly real…. Thanks for giving the meaning of life… and why one shouldn’t get into fights.